The woman killed by Toronto police on January 2, 2017 has been identified as Amleset Haile. The 60 year-old native of Ethiopia was living at a home on St. Clarens Avenue, a Houselink home for people with mental health and addiction issues, when police killed her. Amleset Haile’s name has only been released publicly now. While the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency responsible for investigating cases of civilians harmed by police in Ontario, is investigating the killing it has not released her name.
Police arrived at the home near Bloor and Lansdowne Streets in west Toronto at 4:45 AM on January 2 in response to a report of an emotionally distraught woman threatening suicide. Only 15 minutes later, about 5 AM, Amleset Haile was wheeled out on a stretcher, not moving, her neck held in a brace. The woman would die two days later in hospital after being taken off of life support.
Many questions remain unanswered in the month following her death at the hands of police. And family, friends, and neighbors want answers. Among the questions are why a home for people with mental health issues sis not have trained staff available to assist a distraught woman. Another question concerns why such a home would call police first rather than health care providers. Other questions involve what exactly police did to the woman and why and how did she sustain severe trauma to her body within 15 minutes of police activity. The SIU has not confirmed any police claims about the incident.
Friend Jennifer Cox witnessed part of the incident and believes Haile was in fear and running from police. She does not believe the frail woman was strong enough to lift herself up to jump from a window or balcony. Cox, like others, wonders if the situation involving her friend could have ended differently had a mental health caregiver been called and responded instead of police.
The Toronto Police Department does have Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT), roving units made up of a specially trained police officer and a mental-health nurse. Despite repeated recommendations and calls coming from coroner’s inquests these crisis teams are not available 24-hours a day. And none are available between 11 PM and 6 AM, what can be desperate overnight hours.
In the view of Steve Lurie, executive director of the Toronto branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, there should be an expansion of hours of specialized mental health units. As he puts it: “If the call was ‘we think someone is suicidal,’ it makes more sense to bring mental health professionals to bear if they are available” (quoted in Gillis 2017).
On the whole far more resources should be put into independent mental health sources and resources in cities across Canada. Yet public funding is overwhelmingly given to police departments, at the expense of mental health care, harm reduction, support services, health care services for poor people, etc. Police departments continue to make up the greatest part of city budgets while mental health funding and resources are slashed.
Amleset Haile is remembered by friends and the community organizations she was active in as generous, caring, and kind. She contributed to her communities through groups like Houselink and Sistering, a group for homeless and poor women in Toronto.
Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Friends Seek Answers as SIU Probes Death of 60-Year-Old Toronto Woman.” Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/20/friends-seek-answers-as-siu-probes-death-of-60-year-old-toronto-woman.html